The Universal Notebook: Signs of the times

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“Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs, blocking out the scenery, breakin’ my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

The 1971 hit “Signs” by Canadian rockers Five Man Electrical Band comes to mind as the election approaches and the countryside becomes littered with political signs. It happens every election year, of course, but this year there is particular urgency, even desperation about the partisan pickets.  

The other day, in the course of doing some errands, I paid close attention to the yard signs that have popped up lately expressing our hopes and fears as Americans.

I am pleased to report that there is not a single Trump-Pence sign on my street, which is lined with Biden-Harris, Sara Gideon, Mattie Daughtry (state Senate), and Poppy Arford (state House) signs. The only signs of Trump are a few handmade protest signs posted by a friend up the street. They bear unflattering likenesses of Donald Trump with legends such as Love Trumps Hate.

In response to her anti-Trump signs, my neighbor received an anonymous (of course) letter complaining, “The signs that you have posted in your yard are pure evidence of the evil hate that you have in your soul.” This from a presumed supporter of the most hateful man ever to inhabit the White House.

Urban and suburban folks tend to be more progressive than rural dwellers, largely as a function of education, so it did not surprise me that Trump-Pence signs started sprouting up as I drove out into the countryside. 

Theft and vandalism of political signs have become a bipartisan issue in these heated political times in which Republicans are seen as fascists and Democrats as socialists. I saw evidence of a presumed sign crime out in Pownal where an ostentatious display of Trump banners was accompanied by a plywood “Try Again” sign. A surveillance camera had been installed in a roadside bus shelter nearby.

The war of words that is the 2020 elections pits Make America Great Again against Make America Kind Again. I was pleased and reassured after passing through Trump country therefore to drive down a dirt road in Durham with Black Lives Matter signs every few houses. They’re not all rednecks out there in the boonies.

I also saw a fair number of the statement of beliefs signs that read, “In this house we believe: Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, No Human Is Illegal, Science Is Real, Love Is Love, Kindness Is Everything.” A Madison, Wisconsin, librarian was the first to post this ubiquitous manifesto on Nov. 9, 2016, the day after Trump was elected.

When I drove down Route 1 in Falmouth I found it blessedly free of the Trump-Pence signs a local businessman had plastered all over the road back in 2016. Heading back up Route 88 from Falmouth to Yarmouth, I saw only two houses with Trump signs. Of course, that may just be because most affluent folks have the good sense not to advertise their support for a demagogue.

When I stopped at the supermarket to pick up something for supper, my sign odyssey reached a fitting conclusion when an old lady got out of a red (Republican) pickup truck that sported a Dale Craft sign, a Women for Trump sign, and a cross made of duct tape. A few parking spots away an old man drove off in a blue (Democrat) pickup with signs reading, “Black Slaves Built the White House” and “GOP equals Government of Putin. Wake Up America!”

My sentiments exactly.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix, where he also writes the monthly Art Seen feature.